Dear Dr. Thompson,
We have a stray cat that started coming around about four weeks ago. He is old, boney, and kind of a mess in his appearance. We have now brought him inside and have been feeding him and brushing his coat. He eats often (dry and canned food) and drinks water more often.
We have yet to see him use the litter box or eliminate any urine or bowel even outside. He eats and sleeps and moves very slowly. Does he have a kidney problem? We feel that things are not right with this poor old fellow. Can you let me know what to do for him?
There can be any number of problems that can be an issue in a stray who is exhibiting symptoms of being sick. Before exploring what may be causing his trouble, you need to take a few steps to ensure that he does not introduce any contagious diseases to you or your pets. You did not mention whether or not there were any other pets in the house, but if so, the stray needs to be strictly isolated. He could be carrying viral infections that can be fatal to your cats via casual contact.
Intestinal parasites that can infect you and your pets will not be visible in his stool, so it requires separate litter boxes and extra care when cleaning. Finally, he could have skin infections or mites that would be disastrous if you contracted them or they established themselves in your home. So resist the urge to incorporate him into your regular routine until you know his health status, which will require a trip to your veterinarian as soon as possible.
The first step your veterinarian may take is to run a quick blood test to see if he has been infected with Feline Leukemia (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). These are immunosuppressive viruses that are prevalent in stray cats and can lead to any number of conditions. The dangerous nature of both of these viruses is that cats can be infected but may not show symptoms, improving the odds of transmission to other animals.
She may check for intestinal parasites under the microscope as well. His weight loss could be something more serious, such as kidney failure, but blood tests would be the next step. Also, just as in sheltered indoor cats, dental disease can be a reason for weight loss and not grooming if the cat has a painful condition in which the crowns of the teeth erode over time.
Unfortunately, I haven’t given you much help on what may be troubling your new houseguest, but I hope you can find an easy solution that will get him on the road to recovery after your veterinarian examines him and formulates a plan. Good luck and please be sure to take the necessary steps to protect yourself and any of your current pets.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.